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De Maistre on Tradition and Writing

For some reason, I am always curiously tempted to become Catholic when I read Catholic political theologians. These quotes from de Maistre's "Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions" may begin to illustrate why:

XV: “The New Testament, coming after the death of the legislator and even after the establishment of his religion, offers a narrative, warnings, moral precepts, exhortations, orders, threats, and so on, but certainly not a collection of dogma set out in an imperative form....If the scriptural historian sets out a dogma, it is simply as something already known...Far from the first creeds containing a statement of all our dogmas, on the contrary, Christians of those days would have regarded it as a serious crime to state them all. The same is true of the Holy Scriptures; no idea has been more mistaken than the attempt to find in them the whole of Christian dogma.”

XVI: “Not only does this list of dogmas [the Thirty-Nine Articles] count for nothing, or very nearly, in the country of its birth, but besides it is evident even to a foreigner that the illustrious possessors of this piece of paper find it nothing but an embarrassment. They would like very much to see it go, since it irritates the national good sense enlightened by time, and since it recalls to them an unhappy beginning: but the constitution is written.”

XVII: “Faith, if sophistical opposition had never forced it to write, would be a thousand times more angelic....The state of war elevated venerable ramparts around the truth: they doubtless protect it, but they hide it; they make it unassailable, but at the same time even less accessible. This is not what truth, which would like to clasp humanity in its arms, asks for.”

XX: “Christ did not leave a single writing to his Apostles. In place of books, he promised them the Holy Spirit. It is it, he said to them, that will inspire what you will have to say. But, because in the course of time, guilty men revolted against dogmas and morality, it was necessary to resort to books.”

XXII: “Can this writing [Scripture] be other than the portrait of the Word? And, although infinitely worthy of regard in this respect, does it not need to maintain a divine silence? Finally, if it is attacked or insulted, can it defend itself in the absence of its father? Glory be to truth. If the eternally living spoken word does not give life to writing, it will never become the Word, that is to say life. Let others then invoke as much as they like the SILENT WORD, we shall peacefully laugh at this false god, ever waiting with a gentle impatience for the moment when its partisans will leave their illusions and throw themselves in our arms, extended now for three centuries.”

XXIII: “Since the sixteenth century, a host of scholars have made prodigious efforts of erudition to establish, by going to the earliest days of Christianity, that the Bishops of Rome were not in the first centuries what they have since become, thus assuming as an agreed point that everything that is not found in primitive ages is an abuse. However (and I say this in no spirit of contention and without meaning to shock anyone), they show in this as much philosophy and true learning as if they sought in a babe in arms the real dimensions of a full-grown man. The sovereignty of which I am now talking was born like others and has grown like others. It is pitiful to see powerful minds straining themselves to prove that maturity is an abuse by citing infancy, whereas the very idea of an institution being adult at birth is essentially an absurdity, a true logical contradiction.”



Maybe you should have chosen to study with Catholics. You'd probably be more of a Protestant.

In other words, reading Catholicism is different than living Catholicism. Here at ND, I've realized that RCs face pretty much exactly the same hang-ups, orthopraxic dilemmas, and debates over authority that we do as Reformed Protestants. This kind of foxhole-ecumenism is exactly why I'm very content to remain Protestant while still respecting my Catholic brothers and sisters all the more.

January 29, 2010 at 1:14 PM  

You misread me, Davey. I'm perfectly aware that living Catholicism is very different than book Catholicism. Which is why I said that I'm only particularly tempted to become Catholic when reading, and indeed, primarily only when reading political theologians--which suggests some ulterior motive. I'm no more likely to follow through on the temptation than I am on the curious temptation to become a divine-right monarchist, which de Maistre also tends to elicit.

January 29, 2010 at 3:04 PM  

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